I have already mentioned the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) that collects and reports a good deal of data about the Church. Combing through the data I came across a surprising report on the attitudes of Catholics regarding premarital sex. I knew we had a lot of re-catechizing and re-evangelizing to do on this topic but until now I didn’t have a lot of clear numbers on Catholic attitudes about pre-marital sex (fornication). But this study from CARA provides some pretty basic and startling numbers that show just how much work we have to do. Let’s look at the data.
The Table at the left depicts Responses over the years to the following question: “If a man and a woman have sexual relations before marriage, do you think it is always wrong?” You can click on the chart to make it bigger and clearer. Now it can be seen by the trend lines that the numbers are going in the undesirable direction. In 1972, 39% of adult Catholics responded that premarital sex was “always wrong.” Among Catholics attending Mass at least once a week, 54% responded as such that year. In the most recent survey, conducted in 2008, only 14% of Catholics responded that premarital sex is “always wrong.” Among Catholics attending Mass at least once a week, 30% responded as such.
In other words, more than 70% of Church-going Catholics do not hold or agree to the teaching the Church and Scripture that premarital sex (fornication) is always wrong. Among Catholics who do not go to Mass the number is even higher at 86%.
I knew it was bad, I did not know it was this bad. We have a lot of work to do.
But here is what is even more surprising. The Protestant numbers are much higher than the Catholic ones. Again, lets look at the data. The table at the right depicts the Protestant answers to the same question: “If a man and a woman have sexual relations before marriage, do you think it is always wrong?” You can click on the chart to make it bigger and clearer. For Church-going Protestants, the number of those who agree with the Biblical teaching on premarital sex is between 53 and 62%. For non-Church going Protestants the numbers are between 30 and 40%. You will note too that the trend lines on this graph are going in the right direction, upward toward greater Biblical fidelity. I suspect that the polling was done more heavily in the Evangelical and Fundamentalist segments of Protestantism since I doubt the numbers would be as high in the liberal or mainline Protestant branches.
So it is clear that we have a lot of work to do in our Catholic parishes to re-evangelize the faithful on this important moral topic. It is important not only because sexuality is important, but it is also important because many young people make important and life-changing decisions around this matter. Sexually transmitted diseases are spread and many of them are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Surprise pregnancies often lead to abortion. And college and career can be adversely affected by those who, thankfully, do not abort. Hence this is an important topic to teach and to insist upon.
I know by personal experience that we have done a minimal and poor job of teaching on this matter in the Church. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s we got little or nothing in Sunday School in terms of instruction about sexual morality Most of us had some awareness that there were teachings against premarital sex but why it was considered wrong was vague to us. We just sort of figured the Church had “hang-ups” and was in general “hopelessly out of date.” Our parents too were from a different, more repressed time, so what did they really know? Or so we thought. The generation of the 1960s just before us had blown the roof off everything. They were hip and free. Most of us took our clues from them. After all, when you’re a teenager, you usually look for the more permissive opinions.
Through most of the sexual revolution the Church, at least at the the parish level, was silent. I really regret that no one ever took the Scriptures and read me what God had written. I figured there was nothing wrong with premarital sex since God had only said not to commit adultery. I wasn’t married and so couldn’t break that rule, or so I wrongly thought. I just figured the prohibitions against premarital sex were hang ups of adults and clergy. But that God had something to say directly to me was never shown me. I think it would have made a real difference in my attitude had I seen premarital sex forbidden by God, right there in black and white, in the Bible. But it was not until years later, in the seminary, that I was finally shown such texts.
I would like to exhort teenagers and young adults to be familiar with what God teaches about pre-marital sex(or fornication, as the Bible calls it). I would also like to admonish adults who are parents to be sure to teach their children what the Scriptures say about sex and sexuality. To that end, I have a attached a PDF document (see below) which summarizes about a dozen New Testament texts wherein God speaks clearly to the questions of sexual morality, in particular pre-marital sex. As I have noted, the Biblical word “fornication” is the word that corresponds to what we call today “premarital sex.” Hence, “Fornicator” means one one engages in premarital sex. There are a very few places in the Scriptures where the word fornication (in Greek Porneia) is understood to mean sexual misconduct in general. But usually fornication simply means premarital sex since there are other terms for adultery (moichao); and homosexual acts (arsenkoites). The passages in the PDF document all treat of fornication (premarital sex) and in each case God spells out very clearly that God it is wrong and a serious sin. Please share these texts:
We can turn the poor numbers back, I am convinced, if we teach right out of God’s Word. I suspect this is why the Protestant numbers are better than our. Please review and share these texts.